Seeking to ease growing concerns about the weakening economy, President Bush on Tuesday called on Congress, with whom he has battled all year, to introduce broad new measures that would lower food and energy prices, stem the mortgage crisis and reduce what he called lavish subsidies to farmers.
Speaking at a news conference in the White House Rose Garden Tuesday morning, President Bush issued a sweeping indictment of the Democratic-led Congress, essentially blaming the sputtering economy on what he characterized as the House’s failure to propose “sensible” bills that he could sign into law. Time and again, President Bush said in his opening remarks and in answers to reporters’ questions, he has urged members of Congress to help solve the problems of rising energy prices, tougher access to student loans and the collapse of the subprime mortgage industry.
“On all these issues, the American people are looking to their leaders to come together and act responsibly,” he said. “I don’t think this is too much to ask even in an election year.”
“I have asked Congress to do its part by sending me sensible and effective bills that I could sign,” he said. “Instead they’re sending me bills that look like political statements.”
Pressed to characterize the state of the economy, President Bush refused to say the nation was sliding into recession, and said that many Americans were just beginning to receive their stimulus checks. Mr. Bush said that it would be some time before the effects of those checks on the economy were clear.
“The words on how to define the economy don’t reflect the anxiety the American people feel,” he said. “The average person doesn’t care what we call it. The average person wants to know whether or not we know that they’re paying higher gasoline prices, and they’re worried about staying in their homes, and I do understand that.”
Moments after the president spoke, a group of Democrats shot back in a news conference on Capitol Hill, calling the president out of touch and saying he continues to block their proposals while offering impractical solutions. Senator Charles Schumer of New York led the charge, mocking the president’s assertion that he was open to working with Congress, and listing several proposals that the Bush administration shot down.
“The truth is that the president has closed his eyes and put his hands over his ears as these crises have grown,” he said. “Until very recently, we heard the president say ‘Don’t worry, be happy, everything is going to be just fine.’ Now all of a sudden he’s realizing the problems, and yet the president and the White House have repeatedly ignored repeated shots across the bow of our economy.”
At times sounding weary and frustrated as he delivered his speech, Mr. Bush laid out a litany of complaints against Congress, as he has done often in his final year as president, and said he had suggested a number of solutions that were repeatedly shot down. As gas prices have soared in the past year — as much as $4 a gallon in some parts of the country after rising as much as $1.40 per gallon on average since last year — the Bush administration has called on Congress to allow increased oil exploration in the Arctic national wildlife refuge, or ANWR, and the construction of new oil refineries on abandoned military bases. The solutions he has proposed, Mr. Bush said, would allow the United States to produce as much as 27 million gallons of gasoline and diesel a day.
“Many of the people in Congress who complain about high energy costs support legislation that would make energy even more expensive,” he said. These members of Congress, he said, want to impose “new and costly mandates on producers, and demand dramatic emissions restrictions that would shut down coal plants.”
President Bush then pinned the problem of rising food prices largely on Congress, saying it was considering a “massive, bloated” farm bill that would fail to eliminate subsidy payments to “multimillionaire” farmers. With the nation’s farm economy thriving, the president argued, it is time for Congress to reduce lavish farm subsidies that translate to higher taxes for average Americans.
Mr. Bush said he had also urged Congress to pass legislation that would help address problems in the housing market by modernizing the Federal Housing Administration, reforming the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loan agencies, and allowing state housing agencies to issue tax free bonds to refinance subprime loans.
“Yet they failed to send a single one of these proposals to my desk,” he said. “Americans should not have to wait any longer for their elected officials to help more families stay in their homes.”
In his remarks on Capitol Hill, Mr. Schumer took particular issue with Mr. Bush’s characterization of the energy crisis, saying that the president’s proposed solution of drilling in ANWR would reduce the price of oil by a single penny in 20 years. During that time, Mr. Schumer said, Americans would continue to pay higher gas prices at the pump, while profits for oil companies would soar.
“We have a comprehensive plan that would bring oil prices down in both the short and long run,” he said.
“While the president is standing idly by, proposing irrelevant solutions to a national and international crisis,” he added, “Shell and BP announced record profits for the first quarter in 2008. Who’s side is the president on?”